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The Thracian Dryad Caïssa-Two Poems About Chess

An early illustration of Jones’s Caïssa, by Domenico Maria Fratta.


Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of HYGEIA about Caïssa, a fictional Thracian dryad portrayed as the goddess of chess. She was first mentioned during the Renaissance by Italian poet Hieronymus Vida. The young English orientalist William Jones re-used the idea of a chess poem in 1763, in his own poem Caïssa or The Game at Chess written in English heroic couplets. In his poem, Caïssa initially repels the advances of the god of war, Mars. Spurned, Mars seeks the aid of the god Euphron (Jones’s invention), brother of Venus, who creates the game of chess as a gift for Mars to win Caïssa’s favor.


I‘Schaccia, Ludus’, by Marcus Hieronymus Vida, Bishop of Alba.

The Game of Chess

Armies of box that sportively engage

And mimic real battles in their rage,

Pleased I recount; how, smit with glory’s charms,

Two mighty Monarchs met in adverse arms,

Sable and white; assist me to explore,

Ye Serian Nymphs, what ne’er was sung before.

No path appears: yet resolute I stray

Where youth undaunted bids me force my way.

O’er rocks and cliffs while I the task pursue,

Guide me, ye Nymphs, with your unerring clue.

For you the rise of this diversion know,

You first were pleased in Italy to show

This studious sport; from Scacchis was its name,

The pleasing record of your Sister’s fame.

When Jove through Ethiopia’s parch’d extent

To grace the nuptials of old Ocean went,

Each god was there; and mirth and joy around

To shores remote diffused their happy sound.

Then when their hunger and their thirst no more

Claini’d their attention, and the feast was o’er;

Ocean, with pastime to divert the thought,

Commands a painted table to be brought.

Sixty-four spaces fill the chequer’d square;

Eight in each rank eight equal limits share.

Alike their form, but different are their dyes,

They fade alternate, and alternate rise,

White after black; such various stains as those

The shelving backs of tortoises disclose.

Then to the Gods that mute and wondering sate,

You see (says he) the field prepared for fate.

Here will the little armies please your sight,

With adverse colours hurrying to the fight:

On which so oft, with silent sweet surprise,

The Nymphs and Nereids used to feast their eyes,

And all the neighbours of the hoary deep,

When the calm sea, and winds were lull’d asleep.

But see, the mimic heroes tread the board;

He said, and straightway from an urn he pour’d

The sculptured box, that neatly seem’d to ape

The graceful figure of a human shape:-

Equal the strength and number of each foe,

Sixteen appear’d like jet, sixteen like snow.

As their shape varies various is the name,

Different their posts, nor is their strength the same.

Their might you see two Kings with equal pride

Gird on their arms, their Consorts by their side;

Here the Foot-warriors glowing after fame,

There prancing Knights and dexterous Archers came

And Elephants, that on their backs sustain

Vast towers of war, and fill and shake the plain.

And now both hosts, preparing for the storm

Of adverse battle, their encampments form.

In the fourth space, and on the farthest line,

Directly opposite the Monarchs shine;

The swarthy on white ground, on sable stands

The silver King; and thence they send commands.

Nearest to these the Queens exert their might;

One the left side, and t’other guards the right:

Where each, by her respective armour known,

Chooses the colour that is like her own.

Then the young Archers, two that snowy-white

Bend the tough yew, and two as black as night;

(Greece call’d them Mars’s favourites heretofore,

From their delight in war, and thirst of gore).

These on each side the Monarch and his Queen

Surround obedient; next to these are seen

The crested Knights in golden armour gay;

Their steeds by turns curvet, or snort or neigh.

In either army on each distant wing

Two mighty Elephants their castles bring,

Bulwarks immense! and then at last combine

Eight of the Foot to form the second line,

The vanguard to the King and Queen; from far

Prepared to open all the fate of war.

So moved the boxen hosts, each double-lined,

Their different colours floating in the wind:

As if an army of the Gauls should go,

With their white standards, o’er the Alpine snow

To meet in rigid fight on scorching sands

The sun-burnt Moors and Memnon’s swarthy bands

Then Father Ocean thus; you see them here,

Celestial Powers, what troops, what camps appear.

Learn now the sev’ral orders of the fray,

For ev’n these arms their stated laws obey.

To lead the fight, the Kings from all their bands

Choose whom they please to bear their great commands

Should a black hero first to battle go,

Instant a white one guards against the blow;

But only one at once can charge or shun the foe.

Their gen’ral purpose on one scheme is bent,

So to besiege the King within the tent,

That there remains no place by subtle flight

From danger free; and that decides the fight.

Meanwhile, howe’er, the sooner to destroy

Th’ imperial Prince, remorseless they employ

Their swords in blood; and whosoever dare

Oppose their vengeance, in the ruin share.

Fate thins their camp; the parti-coloured field

Widens apace, as they o’ercome or yield,

But the proud victor takes the captive’s post;

There fronts the fury of th’ avenging host

One single shock: and (should he ward the blow),

May then retire at pleasure from the foe.

The Foot alone (so their harsh laws ordain)

When they proceed can ne’er return again.

But neither all rush on alike to prove

The terror of their arms: the Foot must move

Directly on, and but a single square;

Yet may these heroes, when they first prepare

To mix in combat on the bloody mead,

Double their sally, and two steps proceed;

But when they wound, their swords they subtly guide

With aim oblique, and slanting pierce his side.

But the great Indian beasts, whose backs sustain

Vast turrets arm’d, when on the redd’ning plain

They join in all the terror of the fight,

Forward or backward, to the left or right,

Run furious, and impatient of confine

Scour through the field, and threat the farthest line.

Yet must they ne’er obliquely aim their blows;

That only manner is allow’d to those

Whom Mars has favour’d most, who bend the stubborn bows.

These glancing sidewards in a straight career,

Yet each confined to their respective sphere,

Or white or black, can send th’ unerring dart

Wing’d with swift death to pierce through ev’ry part.

The fiery steed, regardless of the reins,

Comes prancing on; but sullenly disdains

The path direct, and boldly wheeling round,

Leaps o’er a double space at ev’ry bound:

And shifts from white or black to diffirent colour’d ground.

But the fierce Queen, whom dangers ne’er dismay,

The strength and terror of the bloody day,

In a straight line spreads her destruction wide,

To left or right, before, behind, aside.

Yet may she never with a circling course

Sweep to the battle like the fretful Horse;

But unconfined may at her pleasure stray,

If neither friend nor foe block up the way;

For to o’erleap a warrior, ’tis decreed

Those only dare who curb the snorting steed.

With greater caution and majestic state

The warlike Monarchs in the scene of fate

Direct their motions, since for these appear

Zealous each hope, and anxious ev’ry fear.

While the King’s safe, with resolution stern

They clasp their arms; but should a sudden turn

Make him a captive, instantly they yield,

Resolved to share his fortune in the field.

He moves on slow; with reverence profound

His faithful troops encompass him around,

And oft, to break some instant fatal scheme,

Rush to their fates, their sov’reign to redeem;

While he, unanxious where to wound the foe,

Need only shift and guard against a blow.

But none, however, can presume t’ appear

Within his reach, but must his vengeance fear;

For he on ev’ry side his terror throws;

But when he changes from his first repose,

Moves but one step, most awfully sedate,

Or idly roving, or intent on fate.

These are the sev’ral and establish’d laws:

Now see how each maintains his bloody cause.

Here paused the God, but (since whene’er they wage

War here on earth the Gods themselves engage

In mutual battle as they hate or love,

And the most stubborn war is oft above),

Almighty Jove commands the circling train

Of Gods from fav’ring either to abstain,

And let the fight be silently survey’d;

And added solemn threats if disobey’d.

Then call’d he Phoebus from among the Power,

And subtle Hermes, whom in softer hours

Fair Maia bore: youth wanton’d in their face;

Both in life’s bloom, both shone with equal grace

Hermes as yet had never wing’d his feet;

As yet Apollo in his radiant seat

Had never driv’n his chariot through the air,

Known by his bow alone and golden hair.

These Jove commission’d to attempt the fray,

And rule the sportive military day;

Bid them agree which party each maintains.

And promised a reward that’s worth their pains.

The greater took their seats; on either hand

Respectful the less Gods in order stand,

But careful not to interrupt their play,

By hinting when t’ advance or run away.

Then they examine, who shall first proceed

To try their courage, and their army lead.

Chance gave it for the White, that he should go

First with a brave defiance to the foe.

Awhile he ponderd which of all his train

Should bear his first commission o’er the plain;

And then determined to begin the scene

With him that stood before to guard the Queen.

He took a double step: with instant care

Does the black Monarch in his turn prepare

The adverse champion, and with stem command

Bid him repel the charge with equal hand.

There front to front, the midst of all the field,

With furious threats their shining arms they wield;

Yet vain the conflict, neither can prevail

While in one path each other they assail.

On ev’ry side to their assistance fly

Their fellow soldiers, and with strong supply

Crowd to the battle, but no bloody stain

Tinctures their armour; sportive in the plain

Mars plays awhile, and in excursion slight

Harmless they sally forth, or wait the fight.

But now the swarthy Foot, that first appear’d

To front the foe, his pond’rous jav’lin rear’d

Leftward aslant, and a pale warrior slays,

Spurns him aside, and boldly takes his place.

Unhappy youth, his danger not to spy!

Instant he fell, and triumph’d but to die.

At this the sable King with prudent care

Removed his station from the middle square,

And slow retiring to the farthest ground,

There safely lurk’d, with troops entrench’d around.

Then from each quarter to the war advance

The furious Knights, and poise the trembling lance:

By turns they rush, by turns the victors yield,

Heaps of dead Foot choke up the crimsond field:

They fall unable to retreat; around

The clang of arms and iron hoofs resound.

But while young Phoebus pleased himself to view

His furious Knight destroy the vulgar crew,

Sly Hermes long’d t’attempt with secret aim

Some noble act of more exalted fame.

For this, he inoffensive pass’d along

Through ranks of Foot, and midst the trembling throng

Sent his left Horse, that free without confine

Roved o’er the plain, upon some great design

Against the King himself. At length he stood,

And having fix’d his station as he would,

Threaten’d at once with instant fate the King

And th’ Indian beast that guarded the right wing.

Apollo sigh’d, and hast’ning to relieve

The straiten’d Monarch, grieved that he must leave

His martial Elephant exposed to fate,

And view’d with pitying eyes his dang’rous state.

First in his thoughts however was his care

To save his King, whom to the neighbouring square

On the right hand, he snatch’d with trembling flight;

At this with fury springs the sable Knight,

Drew his keen sword, and rising to the blow,

Sent the great Indian brute to shades below.

0 fatal loss! for none except the Queen

Spreads such a terror through the bloody scene.

Yet shall you ne’er unpunished boast your prize,

The Delian God with stern resentment cries;

And wedged him round with foot, and pour’d in fresh supplies.

Thus close besieged trembling he cast his eye

Around the plain, but saw no shelter nigh,

No way for flight; for here the Queen opposed,

The Foot in phalanx there the passage closed:

At length he fell; yet not unpleased with fate,

Since victim to a Queen’s vindictive hate.

With grief and fury bums the whiten’d host,

One of their Tow’rs thus immaturely lost.

As when a bull has in contention stern

Lost his right horn, with double vengeance bum

His thoughts for war, with blood he’s cover’d o’er,

And the woods echo to his dismal roar,

So look’d the flaxen host, when angry fate

O’ertumed the Indian bulwark of their state.

Fired at this great success, with double rage

Apollo hurries on his troops t’engage,

For blood and havoc wild; and, while he leads

His troops thus careless, loses both his steeds:

For if some adverse warriors were o’erthrown,

He little thought what dangers threat his own.

But slyer Hermes with observant eyes

March’d slowly cautious, and at distance spies

What moves must next succeed, what dangers next arise.

Often would he, the stately Queen to snare,

The slender Foot to front her arms prepare,

And to conceal his scheme he sighs and feigns

Such a wrong step would frustrate all his pains.

Just then an Archer, from the right-hand view,

At the pale Queen his arrow boldly drew,

Unseen by Phoebus, who, with studious thought,

From the left side a vulgar hero brought.

But tender Venus, with a pitying eye,

Viewinc, the sad destruction that was nigh,

Wink’d upon Phoebus (for the Goddess sat

By chance directly opposite); at that

Roused in an instant, young Apollo threw

His eyes around the field his troops to view;

Perceived the danger, and with sudden fright

Withdrew the Foot that he had sent to fight,

And saved his trembling Queen by seasonable flight.

But Maia’s son with shouts fill’d all the coast:

The Queen, he cried, the important Queen is lost.

Phoebus, howe’er, resolving to maintain

What he had done, bespoke the heavenly train.

What mighty harm, in sportive mimic fight,

Is it to set a little blunder right,

When no preliminary rule debarr’d?

If you henceforward, Mercury, would guard

Against such practice, let us make the law:

And whosoe’er shall first to battle draw,

Or white, or black, remorseless let him go

At all events, and dare the angry foe.

He said, and this opinion pleased around:

Jove turn’d aside, and on his daughter frown’d,

Unmark’d by Hermes, who, with strange surprise,

Fretted and foam’d, and roll’d his ferret eyes,

And but with great reluctance could refrain

From dashing at a blow all off the plain.

Then he resolved to interweave deceits,

To carry on the war by tricks and cheats.

Instant he call’d an Archer from the throng,

And bid him like the courser wheel along:

Bounding he springs, and threats the pallid Queen.

The fraud, however, was by Phoebus seen;

He smiled, and, turning to the Gods, he said:

Though, Hermes, you are perfect in your trade,

And you can trick and cheat to great surprise,

These little sleights no more shall blind my eyes;

Correct them if you please, the more you thus disguise.

The circle laugh’d aloud; and Maia’s son

(As if it had but by mistake been done)

Recall’d his Archer, and with motion due,

Bid him advance, the combat to renew.

But Phoebus watch’d him with a jealous eye,

Fearing some trick was ever lurking nigh,

For he would oft, with sudden sly design,

Send forth at once two combatants to join

His warring troops, against the law of arms,

Unless the wary foe was ever in alarms.

Now the white Archer with his utmost force

Bent the tough bow against the sable Horse,

And drove him from the Queen, where he had stood

Hoping to glut his vengeance with her blood.

Then the right Elephant with martial pride

Roved here and there, and spread his terrors wide:

Glittering in arms from far a courser came,

Threaten’d at once the King and Royal Dame;

Thought himself safe when he the post had seized,

And with the future spoils his fancy pleased.

Fired at the danger a young Archer came,

Rush’d on the foe, and levell’d sure his aim;

(And though a Pawn his sword in vengeance draws,

Gladly he’d lose his life in glory’s cause).

The whistling arrow to his bowels flew,

And the sharp steel his blood profusely drew;

He drops the reins, he totters to the ground,

And his life issued murm’ring through the wound.

Pierced by the Foot, this Archer bit the plain;

The Foot himself was by another slain;

And with inflamed revenge, the battle burns again.

Towers, Archers, Knights, meet on the crimson ground,

And the field echoes to the martial sound.

Their thoughts are heated, and their courage fired,

Thick they rush on with double zeal inspired;

Generals and Foot, with different colour’d mien,

Confusedly warring in the camps are seen,-

Valour and Fortune meet in one promiscuous scene.

Now these victorious, lord it o’er the field;

Now the foe rallies, the triumphant yield:

Just as the tide of battle ebbs or flows.

As when the conflict more tempestuous grows

Between the winds, with strong and boisterous sweep

They plough th’ Ionian or Atlantic deep!

By turns prevails the mutual blustering roar,

And the big waves alternate lash the shore.

But in the midst of all the battle raged

The snowy Queen, with troops at once engaged;

She fell’d an Archer as she sought the plain,-

As she retired an Elephant was slain:

To right and left her fatal spears she sent,

Burst through the ranks, and triumph’d as she went;

Through arms and blood she seeks a glorious fate,

Pierces the farthest lines, and nobly great

Leads on her army with a gallant show,

Breaks the battalions, and cuts through the foe.

At length the sable King his fears betray’d,

And begg’d his military consort’s aid:

With cheerful speed she flew to his relief,

And met in equal arms the female chief.

Who first, great Queen, and who at last did bleed?

How many Whites lay gasping on the mead?

Half dead, and floating in a bloody tide,

Foot, Knights, and Archer lie on every side.

Who can recount the slaughter of the day?

How many leaders threw their lives away?

The chequer’d plain is fill’d with dying box,

Havoc ensues, and with tumultuous shocks

The different colour’d ranks in blood engage,

And Foot and Horse promiscuously rage.

With nobler courage and superior might

The dreadful Amazons sustain the fight.

Resolved alike to mix in glorious strife,

Till to imperious fate they yield their life.

Meanwhile each Monarch, in a neighbouring cell,

Confined the warriors that in battle fell,

There watch’d the captives with a jealous eye,

Lest, slipping out again, to arms they fly.

But Thracian Mars, in steadfast friendship join’d

To Hermes, as near Phoebus he reclined,

Observed each chance, how all their motions bend,

Resolved if possible to serve his friend.

He a Foot-soldier and a Knight purloin’d

Out from the prison that the dead confined;

And slyly push’d ’em forward on the plain;

Th’ enliven’d combatants their arms regain,

Mix in the bloody scene, and boldly war again.

So the foul hag, in screaming wild alarms

O’er a dead carcase muttering her charms,

(And with her frequent and tremendous yell

Forcing great Hecate from out of hell)

Shoots in the corpse a new fictitious soul;

With instant glare the supple eyeballs roll,

Again it moves and speaks, and life informs the whole

Vulcan alone discern’d the subtle cheat;

And wisely scorning such a base deceit,

Call’d out to Phoebus. Grief and rage assail

Phoebus by turns; detected Mars turns pale.

Then awful Jove with sullen eye reproved

Mars, and the captives order’d to be moved

To their dark caves; bid each fictitious spear

Be straight recall’d, and all be as they were.

And now both Monarchs with redoubled rage

Led on their Queens, the mutual war to wage.

O’er all the field their thirsty spears they send,

Then front to front their Monarchs they defend.

But lo! the female White rush’d in unseen,

And slew with fatal haste the swarthy Queen;

Yet soon, alas! resign’d her royal spoils,

Snatch’d by a shaft from her successful toils.

Struck at the sight, both hosts in wild surprise

Pour’d forth their tears, and fill’d the air with cries;

They wept and sigh’d, as pass’d the fun’ral train,

As if both armies had at once been slain.

And now each troop surrounds its mourning chief,

To guard his person, or assuage his grief.

One is their common fear; one stormy blast

Has equally made havoc as it pass’d.

Not all, however, of their youth are slain;

Some champions yet the vig’rous war maintain. ,

Three Foot, an Archer, and a stately Tower,

For Phoebus still exert their utmost power.

Just the same number Mercury can boast,

Except the Tower, who lately in his post

Unarm’d inglorious fell, in peace profound,

Pierced by an Archer with a distant wound;

But his right Horse retain’d its mettled pride,-

The rest were swept away by war’s strong tide.

But fretful Hermes, with despairing moan.

Grieved that so many champions were o’erthrown,

Yet reassumes the fight; and summons round

The little straggling army that he found,

All that had ‘scaped from fierce Apollo’s rage,

Resolved with greater caution to engage

In future strife, by subtle wiles (if fate

Should give him leave) to save his sinking state.

The sable troops advance with prudence slow.

Bent on all hazards to distress the foe.

More cheerful Phoebus, with unequal pace,

Rallies his arms to lessen his disgrace.

But what strange havoc everywhere has been!

A straggling champion here and there is seen;

And many are the tents, yet few are left within.

Th’ afflicted Kings bewail their consorts dead,

And loathe the thoughts of a deserted bed;

And though each monarch studies to improve

The tender mem’ry of his former love,

Their state requires a second nuptial tie.

Hence the pale ruler with a love-sick eye

Surveys th’ attendants of his former wife,

And offers one of them a royal life.

These, when their martial mistress had been slain,

Weak and despairing tried their arms in vain;

Willing, howe’er, amidst the Black to go,

They thirst for speedy vengeance on the foe.

Then he resolves to see who merits best,

By strength and courage, the imperial vest;

Points out the foe, bids each with bold design

Pierce through the ranks, and reach the deepest line:

For none must hope with monarchs to repose

But who can first, through thick surrounding foes,

Through arms and wiles, with hazardous essay,

Safe to the farthest quarters force their way.

Fired at the thought, with sudden, joyful pace

They hurry on; but first of all the race

Runs the third right-hand warrior for the prize,-

The glitt’ring crown already charms her eyes.

Her dear associates cheerfully give o’er

The nuptial chase; and swift she flies before,

And Glory lent her wings, and the reward in store.

Nor would the sable King her hope~ prevent,

For he himself was on a Queen intent,

Alternate, therefore, through the field they go.

Hermes led on, but by a step too slow,

His fourth left Pawn: and now th’ advent’rous

White Had march’d through all, and gain’d the wish’d for site.

Then the pleased King gives orders to prepare

The crown, the sceptre, and the royal chair,

And owns her for his Queen: around exult

The snowy troops, and o’er the Black insult.

Hermes burst into tears,-with fretful roar

Fill’d the wide air, and his gay vesture tore.

The swarthy Foot had only to advance

One single step; but oh! malignant chance!

A tower’d Elephant, with fatal aim,

Stood ready to destroy her when she came:

He keeps a watchful eye upon the whole,

Threatens her entrance, and protects the goal.

Meanwhile the royal new-created bride,

Pleased with her pomp, spread death and terror wide;

Like lightning through the sable troops she flies,

Clashes her arms, and seems to threat the skies.

The sable troops are sunk in wild affright,

And wish th’ earth op’ning snatch’d ’em from her sight.

In burst the Queen, with vast impetuous swing:

The trembling foes come swarming round the King,

Where in the midst he stood, and form a valiant ring.

So the poor cows, straggling o’er pasture land,

When they perceive the prowling wolf at hand,

Crowd close together in a circle full,

And beg the succour of the lordly bull;

They clash their horns, they low with dreadful sound,

And the remotest groves re-echo round.

But the bold Queen, victorious, from behind

Pierces the foe; yet chiefly she design’d

Against the King himself some fatal aim,

And full of war to his pavilion came.

Now here she rush’d, now there; and had she been

But duly prudent, she had slipp’d between,

With course oblique, into the fourth white square,

And the long toil of war had ended there,

The King had fallen, and all his sable state;

And vanquish’d Hermes cursed his partial fate.

For thence with ease the championess might go,

Murder the King, and none could ward the blow,

With silence, Hermes, and with panting heart,

Perceived the danger, but with subtle art,

(Lest he should see the place) spurs on the foe,

Confounds his thoughts, and blames his being slow.

For shame! move on; would you for ever stay?

What sloth is this, what strange perverse delay?-

How could you e’er my little pausing blame?-

What! you would wait till night shall end the game?

Phoebus, thus nettled, with imprudence slew

A vulgar Pawn, but lost his nobler view.

Young Hermes leap’d, with sudden joy elate;

And then, to save the monarch from his fate,

Led on his martial Knight, who stepp’d between,

Pleased that his charge was to oppose the Queen-

Then, pondering how the Indian beast to slay,

That stopp’d the Foot from making farther way,-

From being made a Queen; with slanting aim

An archer struck him; down the monster came,

And dying shook the earth: while Phoebus tries

Without success the monarch to surprise.

The Foot, then uncontroll’d with instant pride,

Seized the last spot, and moved a royal bride.

And now with equal strength both war again,

And bring their second wives upon the plain;

Then, though with equal views each hop’d and fear’d,

Yet, as if every doubt had disappear’d,

As if he had the palm, young Hermes flies

Into excess of joy; with deep disguise,

Extols his own Black troops, with frequent spite

And with invective taunts disdains the White.

Whom Phoebus thus reproved with quick return-

As yet we cannot the decision learn

Of this dispute, and do you triumph now?

Then your big words and vauntings I’ll allow,

When you the battle shall completely gain;

At present I shall make your boasting vain.

He said, and forward led the daring Queen;

Instant the fury of the bloody scene

Rises tumultuous, swift the warriors fly

From either side to conquer or to die.

They front the storm of war: around ’em Fear,

Terror, and Death, perpetually appear.

All meet in arms, and man to man oppose,

Each from their camp attempts to drive their foes;

Each tries by turns to force the hostile lines;

Chance and impatience blast their best designs.

The sable Queen spread terror as she went

Through the mid ranks: with more reserved intent

The adverse dame declined the open fray,

And to the King in private stole away:

Then took the royal guard, and bursting in,

With fatal menace close besieged the King.

Alarm’d at this, the swarthy Queen, in haste,

From all her havoc and destructive waste

Broke off, and her contempt of death to show,

Leap’d in between the monarch and the foe,

To save the King and state from this impending blow.

But Phoebus met a worse misfortune here:

For Hermes now led forward, void of fear,

His furious Horse into the open plain,

That onward chafed, and pranced, and pawed amain.

Nor ceased from his attempts until he stood

On the long-wished-for spot, from whence he could

Slay King or Queen. O’erwhelm’d with sudden fears,

Apollo saw, and could not keep from tears.

Now all seem’d ready to be overthrown;

His strength was wither’d, ev’ry hope was flown.

Hermes, exulting at this great surprise,

Shouted for joy, and fill’d the air with cries;

Instant he sent the Queen to shades below,

And of her spoils made a triumphant show.

But in return, and in his mid career,

Fell his brave Knight, beneath the Monarch’s spear.

Phoebus, however, did not yet despair,

But still fought on with courage and with care.

He had but two poor common men to show,

And Mar’s favourite with his iv’ry bow.

The thoughts of ruin made ’em dare their best

To save their King, so fatally distress’d.

But the sad hour required not such an aid;

And Hermes breathed revenge where’er he stray’d.

Fierce comes the sable Queen with fatal threat,

Surrounds the monarch in his royal seat;

Rush’d here and there, nor rested till she slew

The last remainder of the whiten’d crew.

Sole stood the King, the midst of all the plain,

Weak and defenceless, his companions slain.

As when the ruddy morn ascending high

Has chased the twinkling stars from all the sky,

Your star, fair Venus, still retains its light,

And, loveliest, goes the latest out of sight.

No safety’s left, no gleams of hope remain;

Yet did he not as vanquish’d quit the plain,

But tried to shut himself between the foe,-

Unhurt through swords and spears he hoped to go,

Until no room was left to shun the fatal blow.

For if none threaten’d his immediate fate,

And his next move must ruin all his state,

All their past toil and labour is in vain,

Vain all the bloody carnage of the plain,

Neither would triumph then, the laurel neither gain.

Therefore through each void space and desert tent,

By different moves his various course he bent:

The Black King watch’d him with observant eye,

Follow’d him close, but left room to fly.

Then when he saw him take the farthest line,

He sent the Queen his motions to confine,

And guard the second rank, that he could go

No farther now than to that distant row.

The sable monarch then with cheerful mien

Approach’d, but always with one space between.

But as the King stood o’er against him there,

Helpless, forlorn, and sunk in his despair,

The martial Queen her lucky moment knew,

Seized on the farthest seat with fatal view,

Nor left th’ unhappy King a place to flee unto.

At length in vengeance her keen sword she draws,

Slew him, and ended thus the bloody cause:

And all the gods around approved it with applause.

The victor could not from his insults keep,

But laugh’d and sneer’d to see Apollo weep.

Jove call’d him near, and gave him in his hand

The powerful, happy, and mysterious wand

By which the Shades are call’d to purer day,

When penal fire has purged their sins away;

By which the guilty are condemn’d to dwell

In the dark mansions of the deepest hell;

By which he gives us sleep, or sleep denies,

And closes at the last the dying eyes.

Soon after this, the heavenly victor brought

The game on earth, and first th’ Italians taught.

For (as they say) fair Scacchis he espied

Feeding her cygnets in the silver tide,

(Scacchis, the loveliest Seriad of the place)

And as she stray’d, took her to his embrace.

Then, to reward her for her virtue lost,

Gave her the men and chequer’d board emboss’d

With gold and silver curiously inlay’d;

And taught her how the game was to be play’d.

Ev’n now ’tis honour’d with her happy name;

And Rome and all the world admire the game.

All which the Seriads told me heretofore,

When my boy-notes amused the Serian shore.


II-‘Caïssa’, by William Jones. 1763

Of armies on the chequer’d field array’d,

And guiltless war in pleasing form display’d;

When two bold kings contend with vain alarms,

In ivory this, and that in ebon arms;

Sing, sportive maids, that haunt the sacred hill

Of Pindus, and the fam’d Pierian rill.

Thou, joy of all below, and all above,

Mild Venus, queen of laughter, queen of love;

Leave thy bright island, where on many a rose

And many a pink thy blooming train repose:

Assist me, goddess! since a lovely pair

Command my song, like thee devinely fair.

Near yon cool stream, whose living waters play,

And rise translucent in the solar ray;

Beneath the covert of a fragrant bower,

Where spring’s nymphs reclin’d in calm retreat,

And envying blossoms crouded round their seat;

Here Delia was enthron’d, and by her side

The sweet Sirena, both in beauty’s pride:

Thus shine two roses, fresh with early bloom,

That from their native stalk dispense perfume;

Their leaves unfolding to the dawning day

Gems of the glowing mead, and eyes of May.

A band of youths and damsels sat around,

Their flowing locks with braided myrtle bound;

Agatis, in the graceful dance admir’d,

And gentle Thyrsis, by the muse inspir’d;

With Sylvia, fairest of the mirthful train;

And Daphnis, doom’d to love, yet love in vain.

Now, whilst a purer blush o’erspreads her cheeks,

With soothing accents thus Sirena speaks:

“The meads and lawns are ting’d with beamy light,

And wakeful larks begin their vocal flight;

Whilst on each bank the dewdrops sweetly smile;

What sport, my Delia, shall the hours beguile?

Whall heavenly notes, prolong’d with various art,

Charm the fond ear, and warm the rapturous heart?

At distance shall we view the sylvan chace?

Or catch with silken lines the finny race?”

Then Delia thus: “Or rather, since we meet

By chance assembled in this cool retreat,

In artful contest let our warlike train

Move well-directed o’er the field preside:

No prize we need, our ardour to inflame;

We fight with pleasure, if we fight for fame.”

The nymph consents: the maids and youths prepare

To view the combat, and the sport to share:

But Daphnis most approv’d the bold design,

Whom Love instructed, and the tuneful Nine.

He rose, and on the cedar table plac’d

A polish’d board, with differing colours grac’d;

Squares eight times eight in equal order lie;

These bright as snow, those dark with sable dye;

Like the broad target by the tortoise born,

Or like the hide by spotted panthers worn.

Then from a chest, with harmless heroes stor’d,

O’er the smooth plain two well-wrought hosts he pour’d;

The champions burn’d their rivals to assail,

Twice eight in black, twice eight in milkwhite mail;

In shape and station different, as in name,

Their motions various, not their power the same.

Say, muse! (for Jove has nought from thee conceal’d)

Who form’d the legions on the level field?

High in the midst the reverend kings appear,

And o’er the rest their pearly scepters rear:

One solemn step, majestically slow,

They gravely move, and shun the dangerous foe;

If e’er they call, the watchful subjects spring,

And die with rapture if they save their king;

On him the glory of the day depends,

He once imprison’d, all the conflict ends.

The queens exulting near their consorts stand;

Each bears a deadly falchion in her hand;

Now here, now there, they bound with furious pride,

And thin the trmbling ranks from side to side;

Swift as Camilla flying o’er the main,

Or lightly skimming o’er the dewy plain:

Fierce as they seem, some bold Plebeian spear

May pierce their shield, or stop their full career.

The valiant guards, their minds on havock bent,

Fill the next squares, and watch the royal tent;

Tho’ weak their spears, tho’ dwarfish be their height,

Compact they move, the bulwark of the fight,

To right and left the martial wings display

Their shining arms, and stand in close array.

Behold, four archers, eager to advance,

Send the light reed, and rush with sidelong glance;

Through angles ever they assault the foes,

True to the colour, which at first they chose.

Then four bold knights for courage-fam’d and speed,

Each knight exalted on a prancing steed:

Their arching course no vulgar limit knows,

Tranverse they leap, and aim insidious blows:

Nor friends, nor foes, their rapid force restrain,

By on quick bound two changing squares they gain;

From varing hues renew the fierce attack,

And rush from black to white, from white to black.

Four solemn elephants the sides defend;

Benearth the load of ponderous towers they bend:

In on unalter’d line they tempt the fight;

Now crush the left, and now o’erwhelm the right.

Bright in the front the dauntless soldiers raise

Their polish’d spears; their steely helmets blaze:

Prepar’d they stand the daring foe to strike,

Direct their progress, but their wounds oblique.

Now swell th’ embattled troups with hostile rage,

And clang their shields, impatient to engage;

When Daphnis thus: A varied plain behold,

Where fairy kings their mimick tents unfold,

As Oberon, and Mab, his wayward queen,

Lead forth their armies on the daisied green.

No mortal hand the wond’rous sport contriv’d,

By gods invents, and from gods deriv’d;

From them the British nymphs receiv’d the game,

And play ech morn beneath the crystal Thame;

Hear then the tale, which they to Colin sung,

As idling o’er the lucid wave he hung.

A lovely dryad rang’d the Thracian wild,

Her air enchanting, and her aspect mild:

To chase the bounding hart was all her joy,

Averse from Hymen, and the Cyprian boy;

O’er hills an valleys was her beauty fam’d,

And fair Caissa was the damsel nam’d.

Mars saw the maid; with deep surprize he gaz’d,

Admir’d her shape, and every gesture prais’d:

His golden bow the child of Venus bent,

And through his breast a piecing arrow sent.

The reed was hope; the feathers, keen desire;

The point, her eyes; the barbs, ethereal fire.

Soon to the nymph he pour’d his tender strain;

The haughtly dryad scorn’d his amorous pain:

He told his woes, where’er the maid he found,

And still he press’d, yet still Caissa frown’d;

But ev’n her frowns (ah, what might smiles have done!)

Fir’d all his soul, and all his senses won.

He left his car, by raging tigers drawn,

And lonely wander’d o’er the dusky lawn;

Then lay desponding near a murmuring stream,

And fair Caissa was his plaintive theme.

A naiad heard him from her mossy bed,

And through the crystal rais’d her placid head;

Then mildly spake: “O thou, whom love inspires,

Thy tears will nourish, not allay thy fires.

The smiling blossoms drink the pearly dew;

And ripening fruit the feather’d race pursue;

The scaly shoals devour the silken weeds;

Love on our sighs, and on our sorrow feeds.

Then weep no more; but, ere thou canst obtain

Balm to thy wounds, and solace to thy pain,

With gentle art thy martial look beguile;

Be mild, and teach thy rugged brow to smile.

Canst thou no play, no soothing game devise;

To make thee lovely in the damsel’s eyes?

So may thy prayers assuage the scornful dame,

And ev’n Caissa own a mutual frame.”

Kind nymph, said Mars, thy counsel I approve;

Art, only art, her ruthless breast can move.

but when? or how? They dark discourse explain:

So may thy stream ne’er swell with gushing rain;

So may thy waves in one pure current flow,

And flowers eternal on thy border blow!”

To whom the maid replied with smiling mien:

“Above the palace of the Paphian queen

Love’s brother dwells, a boy of graceful port,

By gods nam’d Euphron, and by mortals Sport:

Seek him; to faithful ears unfold thy grief,

And hope, ere morn return, a sweet relief.

His temple hangs below the azure skies;

Seest thou yon argent cloud? ‘Tis there it lies.”

This said, she sunk beneath the liquid plain,

And sought the mansion of her blue-hair’d train.

Meantime the god, elate with heart-felt joy,

Had reach’d the temple of the sportful boy;

He told Caissa’s charms, his kindled fire,

The naiad’s counsel, and his warm desire.

“Be swift, he added, give my passion aid;

A god requests.” – He spake, and Sport obey’d.

He fram’d a tablet of celestial mold,

Inlay’d with squares of silver and of gold;

Then of two metals form’d the warlike band,

That here compact in show of battle stand;

He taught the rules that guide the pensive game,

And call’d it Cassa from the dryad’s name:

(Whence Albion’s sons, who most its praise confess,

Approv’d the play, and nam’d it thoughtful Chess.)

The god delighted thank’d indulgent Sport;

Then grasp’d the board, and left his airy court.

With radiant feet he pierc’d the clouds; nor stay’d,

Till in the woods he saw the beauteous maid:

Tir’d with the chase the damsel set reclin’d,

Her girdle loose, her bosom unconfin’d.

He took the figure of a wanton faun,

And stood before her on the flowery lawn;

Then show’d his tablet: pleas’d the nymph survey’d

The lifeless troops in glittering ranks display’d;

She ask’d the wily sylvan to explain

The various motions of the splendid train;

With eager heart she caught the winning lore,

And thought ev’n Mars less hateful than before;

“What spell,” said she, “deceiv’d my careless mind?

The god was fair, and I was most unkind.”

She spoke, and saw the changing faun assume

A milder aspect, and a fairer bloom;

His wreathing horns, that from his temples grew,

Flow’d down in curls of bright celestial hue;

The dappled hairs, that veil’d his loveless face,

Blaz’d into beams, and show’d a heavenly grace;

The shaggy hide, that mantled o’er his breast,

Was soften’d to a smooth transparent vest,

That through its folds his vigorous bosom show’d,

And nervous limbs, where youthful ardour glow’d:

(Had Venus view’d him in those blooming charms,

Not Vulcan’s net had forc’d her from his arms.)

With goatlike feet no more he mark’d the ground,

But braided flowers his silken sandals bound.

the dryad blush’d; and, as he press’d her, smil’d,

Whilst all his cares one tender glance beguil’d.

He ends: To arms, the maids and striplings cry;

To arms, the groves and sounding vales reply.

Sirena led to war the swarthy crew,

And Delia those that bore the lily’s hue.

Who first, O muse, began the bold attack;

The white refulgent, or the mournful black?

Fair Delia first, as favoring lots ordain,

Moves her pale legions tow’rd the sable train:

From thought to thought her lively fancy flies,

Whilst o’er the board she darts her sparkling eyes.

At length the warrior moves with haughty strides;

Who from the plain the snowy king divides:

With equal haste his swarthy rival bounds;

His quiver rattles, and his buckler sounds:

Ah! hapless youths, with fatal warmth you burn;

Laws, ever fix’d, forbid you to return.

then from the wing a short-liv’d spearman flies,

Unsafely bold, and see! he dies, he dies:

The dark-brow’d hero, with one vengeful blow

Of life and place deprives his ivory foe.

Now rush both armies o’er the burnish’d field,

Hurl the swift dart, and rend the bursting shield.

Here furious knights on fiery coursers prance,

but see! the white-rob’d Amazon beholds

Where the dark host its opening van unfolds:

Soon as her eye discerns the hostile maid,

By ebon shield, and ebon helm betray’d;

Seven squares she passed with majestic mien,

And stands triumphant o’er the falling queen.

Perplex’d, and sorrowing at his consort’s fate,

The monarch burn’d with rage, despair, and hate:

Swift from his zone th’ avenging blade he drew,

And, mad with ire, the proud virago slew.

Meanwhile sweet smiling Delia’s wary king

Retir’d from fight behind the circling wing.

Long time the war in equal balance hung;

Till, unforseen, an ivory courser sprung,

And, wildly prancing in an evil hour,

Attack’d at once the monarch and the tower:

Sirena blush’d; for, as the rules requir’d,

Her injur’d sovereign to his tent retir’d;

Whilst her lost castle leaves his threatening height,

And adds new glory to th’ exulting knight.

At this, pale fear oppress’d the drooping maid,

And on her cheek the rose began to fade:

A crystal tear, that stood prepar’d to fall,

She wip’d in silence, and conceal’d from all;

From all but Daphnis; He remark’d her pain,

And saw the weakness of her ebon train;

Then gently spoke: “Let me your loss supply,

And either nobly win, or nobly dir;

Me oft has fortune crown’d with fair success,

And led to triumph in the fields of Chess.”

He said: the willing nymph her place resign’d,

And sat at distance on the bank reclin’d.

Thus when Minerva call’d her chief to arms,

And Troy’s high turret shook with dire alarms,

The Cyprian goddess wounded left the plain,

And Mars engag’d a mightier force in vain.

Strait Daphnis leads his squadron to the field;

(To Delia’s arms ’tis ev’n a joy to yield.)

Each guileful snare, and subtle art he tries,

But finds his heart less powerful than her eyes:

Wisdom and strength superior charms obey;

And beauty, beauty, wins the long-fought day.

By this a hoary chief, on slaughter bent,

Approach’d the gloomy king’s unguarded tent;

Where, late, his consort spread dismay around,

Now her dark corse lies bleeding on the ground.

Hail, happy youth! they glories not unsung

Shall live eternal on the poet’s tongue;

For thou shalt soon receive a splendid change,

And o’er the plain with nobler fury range.

The swarthy leaders saw the storm impend,

And strove in vain their sovereign to defend:

Th’ invader wav’d his silver lance in air,

And flew like lightning to the fatal square;

His limbs dilated in a moment grew

To stately height, and widen’d to the view;

More fierce his look, more lion-like his mien,

Sublime he mov’d, and seem’d a warrior queen.

As when the sage on some unfolding plant

Has caught a wandering fly, or frugal ant,

His hand the microscopic frame applies,

And lo! a bright hair’d monster meets his eyes;

He sees new plumes in slender cases roll’d;

Here stain’d with azure, there bedropp’d with gold;

Thus, on the alter’d chief both armies gaze,

And both the kings are fix’d with deep amaze.

The sword, which arm’d the snow-white maid before,

He noew assumes, and hurls the spear no more;

The springs indignant on the dark-rob’d band,

And knights and archers feel his deadly hand.

Now flies the monarch of the sable shield,

His legions vanquish’d, o’er the lonely field:

So when the morn, by rosy coursers drawn,

With pearls and rubies sows the verdant lawn,

Whilst each pale star from heaven’s blue vault retires,

Still Venus gleams, and last of all expires.

He hears, where’er he moves, the dreadful sound;

Check the deep vales, and Check the woods rebound.

No place remains: he sees the certain fate,

And yields his throne to ruin, and Checkmate.

A brighter blush o’erspreads the damsel’s cheeks,

And mildly thus the conquer’d stripling speaks:

“A double triumph, Delia, hast thou won,

By Mars protected, and by Venus’ son;

The first with conquest crowns thy matchless art,

The second points those eyes at Daphnis’ heart.”

She smil’d; the nymphs and amorous youths arise,

And own that beauty gain’d the nobler prize.

Low in their chest the mimic troops were lay’d,

And peaceful slept the sable hero’s shade.

The Poetical Works of Sir William Jones, volume 1 (London, 1810)


Source: 🌿 🌿ïssa
The Thracian Dryad Caïssa-Two Poems About Chess

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